There are concerns if the readymade garment workers would get their salary and bonus before the Eid and it is being apprehended that labour unrest can get more intense this year.
More than 600 readymade garment factories are being monitored. On 13 May, a labour-related crisis management meeting was held in presence of the owners and the workers, with state minister for labour and employment Monnujan Sufian in the chair. She has ordered the owners to pay the workers their salary and bonuses before Eid, but the failure to mention a specific date is not insignificant.
BGMEA sources say 20 factories, which employed around 10,000 workers, have been closed down in the last 17 working days. It is a matter of grave concern.
It is feared that many more factories might get shut down before the Eid. Due to acute financial crisis, more than 200 factories could not pay the staff their salaries in April.
BGMEA has identified two key reasons for the present crisis -- the purchase order decreased before the election and the minimum wage has increased but foreign buyers did not raise the price.
They are afraid that Ashulia and Gazipur might become ‘very restless’ before Eid. Workers of at least 50 factories can take to the streets in different places, which will further discourage the foreign buyers.
In order to overcome the ongoing crisis, they have asked the government for an allocation of around Tk 3 billion, but the government is yet to meet that request.
However, experts share contrasting views with that of BGMEA. Getting more orders or better prices from the foreigners depend on the ability of the owners too, which is a continuous process.
The owners had targeted reaching $50 billion in exports and it has already crossed $34 billion. No excuses should now be entertained for failing to pay the workers their salary and allowances before the Eid.
The owners can manage all the other expenses to keep the factory running, but when they are to pay the dues they express their inability. Their tendency of asking for ‘subsidy’ is also nothing new.
We believe all the parties should have mutual respect to each other.
The biggest festival of the Muslims is just round the corner. There is no chance to waste the time. Tripartite meetings among the government, the employers and the workers need to be convened immediately. If the people concerned are sincere, it is possible to find a realistic solution.
On Wednesday, we spoke to the BGMEA spokesman and the director general of Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE).
We assume that the number of factories where a large scale labour unrest may take place for non-payment of salary and bonus is not less than 20. The 29 committees formed for fixing the minimum wage have been added to the surveillance process considering the gravity of the situation.
In last Monday's meeting, the owners had proposed paying the salary of 15 days before the Eid, which the government did not agree to.
However, not setting a deadline for payment of the salary and bonuses has created an uncertainty.
The existing law has not given much protection to the garment workers regarding their festival allowances. They can lose their job any time, but a new clause introduced in 2015 says one has to work for at least one ‘uninterrupted year’ to be eligible to enjoy a festival bonus.
Last year, some factory owners disappeared at the eleventh hour, closing their respective factories. After the Eid, they paid the salaries and started the factory again. Such things should never happen again.